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The 1983 move from the Corral to the Olympic Saddledome was like night and day

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Jim Peplinski vividly recalls a journey through the skeletal shell of the Olympic Saddledome, pre-completion.

"I remember going up to the top and looking down,'' says the longtime Calgary Flames winger and future co-captain. "The roof wasn't even on yet."

Peering across the street, the 33-year-old Corral, reminder of soon-to-be bygone times.

"You know, at the time, when we made the change, it felt like moving into a new house,'' reckons Peplinski. "The new house has all the modern conveniences, right? Three-car garage. Big staircase. The new house is certainly more functional, more comfortable.

"The new house impresses all your friends.

"But the old house holds all of your memories. And for that, it'll always be special."

The $97.7-million facility was unveiled Oct. 15, 1983, with a game pitting, fittingly enough, the Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

"I got to play in that one,'' recalls Jamie Macoun, beginning his first full season as a part of the Flames' defence corps.

"You were proud to play in Calgary. You'd hear guys from other teams coming in and saying: 'Oh, man, you get to play half your games in the nicest arena in the NHL.'

"It was one of the nicest arenas in the world when it opened."

In the Corral's claustrophobic quarters, trainer Bearcat Murray's room was pretty spartan - a chair and a training table. "Just big enough,'' joked Peplinski, "for Bobby MacMillan to have a smoke."

The main dressing room housed four showers, one toilet and two urinals.

With the kitty-corner change in venue all of a sudden there was … room. Acres of it. 

"As much as I liked the Corral, and there were some really unique aspects to playing there,'' acknowledges Macoun, "this was like night and day. Better clock. Brighter building. Large dressing rooms. 16,000 fans instead of 7,000. An actual workout room. We had a hot tub. An area to hang your clothes.

"What was not to like?

"It was a pleasure to play in that arena. At the time, remember, we were still going into the Checkerdome (in St. Louis), the Montreal Forum, a lot of older places like that.

"I mean, a place like Boston Garden had lots of history but geez …

"Walking into the Saddledome, you knew you were in the big leagues."

Back then, Doug Risebrough was still an indomitable, gap-toothed centre, entering his second full season after coming over from the Montreal Canadiens.

"The Saddledome was brand new, state-of-the-art. It was just … spectacular.

"But it was familiar in that the drive to the rink was just across the street, not across town. 

"Maybe because I'd only been there one year, I wasn't thinking of (the Corral) as a neat old car. I was thinking of it as kind of a dumpy car.

"Maybe it did serve its purpose but I was one of the fastest, first ones across the street."

The Flames lost that first game, 4-3 to the Oilers. They've enjoyed their fair share of success in the new digs since then, though.

"There'd been a lot of turnover that year,'' recalls Peplinski. "A number of guys who'd played at the Corral never made it in the transfer to the Saddledome.

"Eric Vail. Guy Choiunard. Mel Bridgman. Willi Plett. Lots of good friends.

"For me, personally, going back to the Corral is still like returning to the place you grew up.

"If you asked me would I have been disappointed to play my whole career in the Corral, I'd have said: Not a chance.

"But things change. How many people live their whole lives in the house they were born in?"

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